Sam Davis—a Southern Hero. [from the Pulaski, Tenn., citizen, January 6, 1898.]A Tribute to this Martyr by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, with a simple account of the sacrifice.
A touching parallel to the fate of Nathan Hale.
Nothing sweeter, it may be felt, might the poet have done, than in her lines given. It may be trusted, that, permanently re-united, our most promising refuge and Nation, will not fail in recognition, in time, of every instance of honorable devotion. At a recent meeting of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, at Baltimore, a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox was read. The poem is eulogistic of a young Tennessee Confederate soldier who preferred death to dishonor. Mrs. Wilcox wrote the poem for the Confederate Veteran, and in a note to the editor, she said: ‘I have never worked harder to produce what I desired. I began fully twenty poems before I wrote this one.’ Here it is:
The bronze head of Sam Davis was one of the most admired works of art in the Parthenon of the Tennessee Centennial. This bust, executed by Julian Zolling, represents a nobly formed head; the boyish face conveys an impression of courage, strength and sweetness. Many visitors were attracted to this bit of bronze; singularly enough, many of them had never before heard of Sam Davis and his tragic death. Here is the story: In 1863 General Bragg sent a number of picked men, as scouts, among them Sam Davis, into Middle Tennessee in order to gain information concerning the Federal army; he wished to know if the Union army was re-enforcing Chattanooga. The men were to go  South and send their reports by courier line to General Bragg at Missionary Ridge. The expedition was attended with much danger. The scouts had seen the 16th Army Corps, commanded by General Dodge, move from Corinth to Pulaski, and on Friday, November 19, they started to return to their own camp, each man for himself, and bearing his own information. Late that afternoon they were captured by the 7th Kansas Cavalry, known as the ‘Kansas Jayhawkers,’ taken to Pulaski and put in prison. Important papers were found upon the person of Sam Davis. In his saddle-bags the plans and fortifications as well as an exact report of the Federal Army in Tennessee were found. A letter intended for General Bragg was also found. General Dodge sent for Davis and told him that he had a serious charge to make; that he was a spy and did not seem to realize the danger he was in. The General also remarked kindly that Davis was a young man, and that it would be well for him to tell from what source his accurate information concerning the Federal army was obtained. Davis had made no reply until this time. Then he said: ‘General Dodge, I know the danger of my situation, and am willing to take the consequences.’ He was ready to die rather than betray his friends. General Dodge remonstrated with the young prisoner, and insisted that he tell the name of his informer. Davis answered steadfastly: ‘I will not tell. You are doing your duty as a soldier, and I am doing mine. If I have to die, I do so feeling that I am doing my duty to God and to my country.’ Pleading was useless. He thanked General Dodge for his kind interest, but remained firm. Davis was condemned to death. The night before his execution he wrote a pathetically brave letter to his mother and father. The morning of the execution arrived. Davis was put into a wagon and taken to the Courthouse Square. The condemned man, seeing some of his friends at a window, bowed a last farewell. Arriving at the gallows Davis asked Captain Armstrong how long he had to live. The reply was: ‘Fifteen minutes.’ Davis then asked for the news. Captain Armstrong told him of the Confederate defeat at Missionary Ridge. He expressed much regret, and said: ‘The boys will have to fight without me.’  General Dodge still had hope that Davis would reveal the name of the traitor in the Federal camp, and thus save his own life. One of the officers of General Dodge rapidly approached the scaffold, and asked the youth if it would not be better for him to speak the name of the person from whom he had received the document found upon him, adding: ‘It is not too late yet!’ Davis replied: ‘If I had a thousand lives, I would lose them all before I would betray my friends, or the confidence of my informer.’ He then requested the officer to thank General Dodge for his efforts to save him, but to repeat that he could not accept the terms. Turning to the chaplain he asked that a few keepsakes be kept for his mother. He then said that he was ready, ascended the scaffold, and stepped upon the trap. Another noble young life was sacrificed for love of the South.